The President of the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) has issued a decision declaring that Natural Pharmaceuticals’ actions had violated the collective interests of consumers.
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UOKiK has challenged seven practices that could influence and manipulate consumer decision making process in various ways.
Consumers’ very first contact with Natural Pharmaceuticals’ dietary supplement offerings via television advertising, printed order coupons, or websites may have been misleading.
The company boasted “more than one million satisfied customers” of a particular product, while the information referred to the number of total customers of the entrepreneur.
The entrepreneur also suggested that use of the product was recommended as part of nationwide health campaigns.
Some marketing materials used the authority of public institutions and invoked the supposed recommendations of the European Food Safety Authority for a particular supplement.
Among other things, the company’s TV commercial stated that each household could order a free year’s supply of vitamin D, while it was necessary to cover the cost of shipping the product which consumers may not have read. In addition, the company improperly labelled the button for online ordering, which was in violation of the Consumer Rights Law.
On some websites, Natural Pharmaceuticals offered a free sample of the dietary supplement. When the consumer clicked to confirm they wanted it, another window appeared almost immediately with a similar message, which, however, did not refer to a free sample, but to a year’s paid supply of the product with a subscription.
Due to the content and graphic form, it may have been indistinguishable to consumers. The complaints analysed confirmed that the company used a redirection mechanism ordering a free sample and signing up for a paid subscription followed directly after each other.
Displayed in a thank you window for placing an order, they may have been viewed by consumers as a continuation of the process of signing up for a free product sample.
What is more, in the channels for contact with consumers on websites, in printed order coupons, or through the hotline the company presented, among other things, a year’s supply of a particular product.
When the parcel arrived after a while, then it turned out that the entrepreneur’s offer also included a paid subscription to dietary supplements which consumers may not have been aware of.
The aforementioned redirection and subscription practices for dietary supplements, including invoking social proof (“a million satisfied...”) for customer manipulation, should be considered dark patterns (deceptive interfaces).
It is a name that encompasses anything that forces unintended or unwanted consumer actions in the virtual space for the benefit of the entrepreneur.
President of UOKiK Tomasz Chróstny has imposed a total fine of PLN 5,196,840 ($1.1m)on the company for practices that violate the collective interests of consumers.
Carl Jonas Törnquist, President of the Management Board of the company, will also face a financial sanction of PLN 110,000 ($26,000) for intentionally allowing the company to violate the Competition and Consumer Protection Act.
Once the decision becomes final, the entrepreneur will have to inform all consumers who have been or are its customers since 14 February 2017 as well as post a statement on its website and social media. ■